Out on the Atlantic City Boardwalk this Saturday, July 30, 2022 evening it feels like another steamy night at the Jersey Shore, but inside the Soundwaves auditorium at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino music lovers ride a cool wave of excitement as they ready themselves for a live concert by Five for Fighting.
Five for Fighting is the stage name of singer/songwriter John Ondrasik. In 1995, at the request of record execs who found his surname difficult to pronounce, Ondrasik, a hockey fan, chose for his stage name, “Five for Fighting,” an ice hockey term that means a five-minute penalty for participating in a fight.
Following the release of his debut album, Message for Albert, Ondrasik partnered with Columbia Records for his sophomore effort, America Town, which featured the single, “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” The song became an anthem after the September 11, 2001 attacks and earned Ondrasik his first Grammy nomination in 2002.
He followed that up with his 2003 hit, “100 Years,” which rocketed to #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart and earned a Platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over a million copies.
Other Five for Fighting recordings by Ondrasik include 2006’s Two Lights, 2009’s Slice, and 2013’s Bookmarks, in addition to two live albums, 2017’s Christmas Under the Stars and 2018’s Live with String Quartet.
In addition to his 2021 recording, “Blood on My Hands,” Ondrasik’s latest release is his 2022 composition, “Can One Man Save the World?” a song about Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy which he recorded in Kyiv with members of The Ukrainian Orchestra.
Inside the Hard Rock’s Soundwaves auditorium, the lights dim and the members of tonight’s opening act, The Verve Pipe — featuring vocalist/guitarist Brian Vander Ark, vocalist Channing Lee, guitarist Lou Musa, bassist Brad Vander Ark, keyboardist Randy Sly, and drummer Zach Dubay — take the stage.
Opening with “No One’s Gonna Break This Heart (Again),” Brian Vander Ark’s voice cries out, “And no one’s gonna break this heart again/No one’s ever gonna get close again,” on this power ballad which is accompanied by the band’s potent vocal and instrumental performance.
Following the driving rocker “Photograph” and the rhythmic “I Want All of You,” Vander Ark announces, “This next one is from the movie, Rock Star, starring Mark Wahlberg,” before acknowledging, “Watching Mark Wahlberg lip-sync my voice while singing to Jennifer Aniston was weird!” Launching into the film’s concluding number, “Colorful,” Vander Ark croons, “I know I can be colorful/I know I can be gray/But I know this loser’s living fortunate/‘Cause I know you will love me either way.”
Additional highlights of The Verve Pipe’s set include “Found,” a new song on which Lee and Vander Ark channel Simon and Garfunkel with their two-part harmony vocals accompanied by fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
Another highlight is the group’s best known song, their 1997 Top 5 hit, “The Freshmen,” a composition which Vander Ark reveals he wrote after “growing up listening to the fingerpicking of James Taylor.” Members of the crowd join Vander Ark and the rest of the group singing the “For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins/We were merely freshmen” chorus, accompanied by Vander Ark’s expert electric guitar fingerpicking and a dynamic performance by the band.
The crowd cheers and Vander Ark exclaims, “Thank you, Atlantic City!” before the musicians leave the stage and return for a dynamic encore of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Featuring four-part vocal harmonies on the rhythmic “And if you don’t love me now/You will never love me again” refrain, audience members sing along as they clap their hands over their heads and Lee and Vander Ark jump on stage while guitarist Lou Musa solos to avid cheers and applause.
Following a short intermission, the lights dim and a recording of Five For Fighting’s “Got Blood on my Hands” plays. The crowd whistles and cheers as John Ondrasik and his band — guitarist Pete Thorn, bassist Sean Hurley, and drummer Randy Cooke — take the stage.
Opening with “Bella’s Birthday Cake,” Ondrasik’s clear vocal rings out as he sings, “Bella’s birthday cake was burning yeah, like lightning, or like fire,” accompanied by Sean Hurley’s solid bass playing and Randy Cook’s precision drumming on this rockin’ story song. Ondrasik accompanies himself on grand piano as spotlights shine and Pete Thorn wails on a guitar solo.
Segueing directly into “Chances,” Ondrasik’s piano arpeggios introduce the number before he effortlessly pops into his falsetto voice on this anthemic rocker which many recognize from the film, The Blind Side. Thorn sings harmony before playing a riveting electric guitar solo to enthusiastic applause and cheers.
“Good evening, Atlantic City. Thank you for coming out!” announces Ondrasik as he straps on an acoustic guitar. After explaining, “Bella was on the first album that didn’t sell well, but this is the first song you heard on the radio,” he and the band launch into “Easy Tonight.”
Audience members happily sing along on the song’s catchy “Shotgun fire/Anybody home/I got two dimes in the telephone” chorus before Thorn shreds a guitar solo on this appealing folk-rocker.
The crowd cheers and Ondrasik tells a story about something which, he says, is “close to my heart and has four tires” — the car his dad brought him home from the hospital in. After revealing that his father gave him the car when he started to drive and he “painted it purple,” white hot spotlights criss-cross the stage and colored lights glow as he delivers his hot rocking “’65 Mustang.”
Moving back to the grand piano, Ondrasik’s falsetto voice soars as he sings from his heart on his story song, “The Riddle,” before paying tribute to the military with the powerful “Two Lights.” On this number, electric guitar, bass, and drums add to the drama of this achingly beautiful ballad that pulls at listeners’ heartstrings with its “Tear out my heart/Feed it to lions” refrain.
The audience whistles and cheers and Ondrasik tells the crowd that the next song, which he wrote after 9/11, is “about how when the chips are down we can find each other.” Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, his falsetto voice floats out on “NYC Weather Report” as he sings the emotionally powerful “Sunny, you are a part of me/Sunny, you are the heart of me” chorus.
Pete Thorn plays a lyrical solo and the two guitarists face one another as the song, in performance, takes on a life of its own.
Ondrasik explains that the next number was co-written by his four-year-old daughter when he called her from the road and she told him, “Daddy, I just love you. I don’t know why, I just do.” Audience members are mesmerized as Ondrasik performs this uncommon love song, “I Just Love You,” a number which inspires enthusiastic cheers and applause.
Explaining, “That’s Olivia’s song — she’s now 21,” Ondrasik jokes, “Makes you wish you had a song about time passing by. Let me see what I can come up with for you.” Here, he performs his well-known hit, “100 Years,” where he sings, “15, there’s still time for you/Time to buy and time to lose/15/There’s never a wish better than this” and audience members stand and cheer for his moving performance.
Ondrasik bows center stage and thanks the audience. After providing background on the song he wrote about Afghanistan, “Blood on My Hands,” he talks to the audience about his most recent composition,“Can One Man Save the World?” which he wrote about Ukraine. Revealing that he was invited to record the song in Kyiv with The Ukrainian Orchestra, “through the magic of technology,” Ondrasik performs the song live accompanied by the orchestra’s instrumental track.
Grand piano, drums, and orchestra support Ondrasik’s powerful and emotional vocal as he cries, “Can one man save the world?/In a thousand years/Will they say your name?/Or is this all in vain?” Audience members rise from their seats for this poignant and impassioned performance and its creator/interpreter who shows true character through his music.
Wrapping up tonight’s concert with “Superman,” music lovers sing along on the song’s well-known “I’m more than a bird, I’m more than a plane/I’m more than some pretty face beside a train/And it’s not easy to be me” chorus before rising to their feet again for Ondrasik and the band.
“Thank you, Atlantic City — you guys are amazing!” says Ondrasik before he and the musicians bow and exit the stage.
The crowd continues to stand and applaud and Ondrasik and Co. return to play “World.” Singing, “What kind of world do you want?/Think anything/Let’s start at the start/Build a masterpiece,” Ondrasik captures the hearts of his listeners with his songwriting talents, his one-of-a-kind voice, and his accomplished musicians.
Ondrasik introduces his bandmates and then asks everyone in the crowd to help him with a live interpretation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After Ondrasik croons the well-known “Is this the real life?” intro at the piano, Pete Thorn’s electric guitar wails and Ondrasik gets up and conducts the audience while they joyfully sing all of the song’s vocal parts to the band’s accompaniment. Returning to the piano before the song’s “Nothing really matters” conclusion, the audience wildly cheers as Ondrasik smiles and his musicians bow together and exit the stage.
As audience members make their way out of the auditorium, we chat with several concertgoers who share their thoughts on tonight’s performance by Five for Fighting. Declares Larissa from Basking Ridge, “This show was fantastic! I saw John Ondrasik 12 years ago, and he was even better tonight where he played all his best songs and then some.”
Denise from Wayne agrees, adding, “This was my first time seeing him, and he was just awesome! I especially loved ‘Superman’ — plus his song for Ukraine was incredible, too.”
Samantha, a teenager from Old Tappan, NY reveals, “This was my first concert ever, and I really liked it — especially the song, ‘Superman.’” Her sister, Darian, concurs, adding, “I loved the show, too, especially ‘Chances’ and ‘Bella’s Birthday.’” Samantha and Darian’s mom, Laura, explains, “I play the songs for the kids and they listen,” recalling, “I haven’t heard John in concert for about 20 years, but I have his CD right in my car. I was so happy to hear he was performing tonight that we decided to come see him,” before concluding, “His concert was phenomenal and his voice is phenomenal, too.”
Gary from Bucks County, PA, remarks “John Ondrasik can speak to everyone — parents, grandparents, veterans — you name it,” acknowledging, “I especially like that, as listeners, we can relate to his songs at different ages in our lives. It’s like we’ve been growing up with him,” prior to concluding, “We’ve seen John in concert with a string orchestra, and it was great to hear him perform live with his rock band tonight.”
Gary’s wife, Mandi, agrees, exclaiming, “It was just wonderful — I loved it! We’ve been following John and his music forever — I can even remember seeing him on a talk show with his daughter, Olivia, many years ago.” Adding, “His voice sounded fantastic tonight, and I love the fact that he’s an American patriot,” Mandi concludes with a personal message for John, declaring, “Keep on touring, and we’ll be there!”
To learn more about Five for Fighting, please go to fiveforfighting.com. For info on The Verve Pipe, please click on thevervepipe.com. For information on upcoming performances at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino — including Rod Stewart on August 19, John Fogerty on September 9, and Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band on September 24 — please click on www.hardrockhotels.com/atlantic-city.
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